PICKENS COUNTY — If you have noticed an inordinate amount of butterflies in Upstate South Carolina lately, there’s a reason: the Gulf fritillary has arrived.
The Gulf fritillary, or passion butterfly, takes its name from its migration across the Gulf of Mexico.
Originally native to Argentina and north through Central America, the passion butterfly thrives in warm weather and is now a permanent resident in Southern Florida and parts of Texas.
The butterflies have been known to range as far north as Illinois during the summer but there is some debate among entomologists on whether that migration is one way.
According to a paper published by Journal of the Lepidopterists’ Society, the Gulf fritillary retreats south before the frosts of late fall and early winter but there have been published papers suggesting the butterflies don’t migrate back south, instead they simply die off, only to return the following year.
Either way, for now, the butterfly is here. In abundance.
Gulf fritillary is nicknamed the “passion butterfly” because of its primary food source and host plant — the passion flower vine. They are a large butterfly and are often mistaken for monarchs due to their bright orange wings.
Adult passion butterflies can have a wingspan of up to 3.7 inches.
Their caterpillars are bright orange and covered with black spines. While they may look intimidating, the spines are actually soft to the touch and they pose no danger to humans — although according to the U.S. Forest Service they are poisonous if eaten.
The passion butterflies can have several broods throughout the spring and summer and usually reach their peak populations from August through November throughout the Southern United States. Females can be distinguished from males by their slightly browner color and more extensive markings.
Both the male and the female have a relatively average lifespan for a butterfly and typically live for several weeks.
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.